The Nameless Day is a difficult book to review as there was so much I didn’t like about it. To begin with, the main character is extremely unlikeable, which isn’t an automatic mark against a book, but when the character stays so consistently unlikeable for such a long time, it does get a bit wearying. We see some slight glimpses of a better man here and there more towards the end, but following Thomas Neville through several hundred pages can seem a bit of a chore. Worse for me were the many inconsistencies within the book of plot and character. Just to give one example, at one point Thomas is berated and mocked by a small group for having traipsed around much of Europe due to some visions from St. Michael. Then only a few pages later, the same group listens as Thomas tells them of demons and his visions and they all believe him wholeheartedly because according to the author, they had been trained from birth to do so. The two seem pretty mutually exclusive to me and I still can’t reconcile the disparate actions beyond the author’s need to have the plot go in certain directions so she has characters act any way necessary. One more example — once this group does wholeheartedly believe in the demons and Thomas’ vision, they seem surprisingly passive with regard to them. This sort of inconsistency runs throughout the book and is infuriating in places.
Yet somehow, once I got past the first 100 pages, during which I several times considered just stopping, the book did get hold of me somehow, even though I kept marking its flaws. Part of it was an interest in whether Thomas would grow in character. Another was an interest in the God/Angels vs. Demons and which was good which was bad plot. And to be honest, much, if not even most, was when characters I’ve always been interested in such as Prince Hal and Hotspur and Richard etc. started to make regular appearance. I can’t say if those not in the English teacher-Shakespeare reader mold that I come from would find the book as interesting.
The strengths of The Nameless Day, besides picking some interesting historical/dramatic characters, are its historical setting/detail and its ability to keep the reader guessing a bit with regard to character motivations, with a lot of unclear or shifting alliances and desires. The weaknesses are the aforementioned inconsistencies, the almost unrelenting negativity of the main character, and some hard to swallow plot points/premises.
I’ll read the second book, as it continues to move into a period of history I enjoy, but I hope it’s better constructed. As for this one, recommended but barely, with a lot of misgiving.
Thirty years ago, an elderly monk died of the plague before he could perform a ritual that would keep a portal to Hell closed, or pass on his knowledge to a successor.
Now, thirty years later, Brother Thomas Neville is chosen by St. Michael to reseal the portal. To do that, he needs to find the old monk’s book.
Thomas is a man with demons of his own; a member of one of England’s most prominent families, he forsook secular life for the priesthood after his mistress’s death, which was a result of his own desertion of her. Returning to England to search for the book, he finds himself drawn to his old friends among the nobility, to worldly life, and to his uncle’s former mistress, Margaret, whom Thomas magically impregnated while sleeping with a pregnant peasant woman. (Don’t ask.) He is attracted to Margaret, but also considers her an abomination and suspects she is in league with the demons.
I was sucked into this story for two reasons: one, because I can’t wait to find out who’s really “good” and who’s really “evil” in this cosmology. Right now, the angels and the demons both look pretty bad. Two, because I loved the real-history sections of the plot. Douglass has set her story during a tumultuous and fascinating period.
What I didn’t like: I know he’s meant to be that way, but Thomas is a loathsome character. Thankfully, he develops just a little toward the end of the novel, but not enough; he’s still prone to making me want to slap him. Meanwhile, Margaret is rather spineless, becoming hysterical over her lover deciding not to marry her even though that was the agreement from the start, then imprinting on Thomas almost instantly. I can’t figure out why she loves him so unrelentingly. It reminds me a lot of Hades’ Daughter, with a self-righteous “hero” sleeping with, but treating like dirt, a clinging-vine “heroine.” Ugh.